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The thing from the lake


TheProjectGutenbergeBook,TheThingfromtheLake,byEleanorM.Ingram
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Title:TheThingfromtheLake
Author:EleanorM.Ingram
ReleaseDate:December4,2007[eBook#23738]
Language:English
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THETHINGFROMTHELAKE
BY


ELEANORM.INGRAM
Authorof"FromtheCarBehind","TheUnafraid",etc.



COPYRIGHT,1921,BYJ.B.LIPPINCOTTCOMPANY
PRINTEDBYJ.B.LIPPINCOTTCOMPANY
ATTHEWASHINGTONSQUAREPRESS
PHILADELPHIA,U.S.A.


CONTENTS
Page
CHAPTERI007
CHAPTERII014
CHAPTERIII032
CHAPTERIV074
CHAPTERV078
CHAPTERVI087
CHAPTERVII100
CHAPTERVIII117
CHAPTERIX122
CHAPTERX130
CHAPTERXI145
CHAPTERXII158
CHAPTERXIII169
CHAPTERXIV184
CHAPTERXV192
CHAPTERXVI211
CHAPTERXVII237
CHAPTERXVIII249
CHAPTERXIX265


CHAPTERXX288
CHAPTERXXI293
CHAPTERXXII302


CHAPTERI
"As well give up the Bible at once, as our belief in
apparitions."—WESLEY.
Thehousecriedouttomeforhelp.
In the after-knowledge I now possess of what was to happen there, that
impressionisnotmoreclearlydefinitethanitwasatmyfirstsightoftheplace.
Let me at once set down that this is not the story of a haunted house. It is, or
was, a beleaguered house; strangely besieged as was Prague in the old legend,
whenamidnightarmyofspectresunfurledpalebannersandencampedaround
thecitywalls.
Ofcourse,Ididnotknowallthis,thedaythatmyreal-estateagentbroughthis
littlecartoastopbeforethedilapidatedfarm.Ibelievedthehouseonlyappealed
tobelivedin;fordeliverancefromthedestroyingworkofneglectandtime.A
springrainwaswhisperingdownfromagraysky,drippingfrombrokengutters
andeaveswithapatterliketimidfootstepshurryingby,yeteveninthestormthe
housedidnotlookdreary.
"There,Mr.Locke,isabargain,"theagentcalledbacktome,whereIsatinmy
car."FinestbitinConnecticutforacityman'ssummerhome!Woodland,farm
land,lakeandahousethatonlyneedsafewrepairstobeup-to-date.Lookatthat
doublerowofmaples,sir.Shadeallsummer!Fineoldorchard,too;withatrifle
ofattention."
I nodded, surveying the house with an eagerness of interest that surprised
myself. A box-like, fairly large structure of commonplace New England
ugliness,itcoaxedmylikingashadnootherplaceIhadeverseen;itwooedme
likeadeterminedwoman.Andasonewouldlongtoclothebeautifullyabeloved
woman,Ilookedatthehouseandforesawwhatanarchitectcoulddoforit;how
creamystucco;broadwhiteporchesandagayscarletroofwouldtransformit.
"Comeinside,"myagenturged,hopeinhisvoiceasheobservedmyface;"let
me show you the interior. I brought the keys along. Of course, theroomsmay
seem a bit musty. No one has lived in it for—some time. It's the old Michell
property;beeninthefamilyforacoupleofhundredyears.LastMichellisdead,


now, and it's being sold for the benefit of some religious institute the old
gentlemanleftitto.Triflewettowalkoverthelandtoday!ButI'veaplanand
measurementsinmyportfolio."
Isaidthatwewouldgoin.Ifhehadbutknownthefact,theplacewasalready
soldtome;beforeIleftmycar,beforeIenteredthehouse,beforeIhadseenthe
hundred-oddacresthatmakeuptheestate.
Therewasanarrow,flaggedpathtotheveranda,wheretheplankingmovedand
creakedunderourweightwhilemycompanionunlockedthefrontdoor.Rather
astonishingly,theairofthelong-closedplacewasneithermustynordamp,when
westeppedin.Instead,therewasafaint,resinousodor,verypleasantandclean;
perhapsfromthecedarofwhichthewoodworklargelyconsisted.
Thehousewaspartiallyfurnished.Not,ofcourse,withmuchthatIwouldcare
to retain, but a few good antiques stood out among their commonplace
associates.Alargebedroomonthenorthside,whichIappointedasmyownat
first sight, held an old rosewood set including a four-posted, pineapple-carved
bed.Ithrewopentheshuttersinthisroomandlookedout.
Ireceivedthefirstjartomysatisfaction.Onthissideoftheplace,thegrounds
ran down a slight slope for perhaps half a block to the five-acre hollow of
shallowwaterandlushgrowthwhichtheagentcalledalake.Fromitfloweda
considerable creek, winding behind the house and away on its journey to the
Sound.Forthatunder-watermarshIfeltashockofviolentdislike.
"You don't care for the lake?" my companion deprecated, at my elbow. "Fine
troutinthatstream,though!I'dlikeyoutoseeitinthesunshine."
"Ishouldcaremoreforitifitwasalake,notaswamp,"Ianswered.
"Oh,butthatisonlybecausetheolddamisdown,"heexclaimedeagerly."That
lets all the water out, you see. Why, if the dam were put back, you'd have as
prettyalakeforacanoeasthereisintheState!Itsnaturaldepthisfourorfive
feetallover,andabouteightortenwherethestreamflowsthroughtothedam.
Evenyet,afewwildduckstoptherespringandfall,andwhenIwasaboyI've
seen heron. Put back the dam, Mr. Locke, and I'll guarantee you'll never say
swampagain!"
"Wewilltryit,"Isaid."NowletusfindalawyerandseehowquicklyIcanbe
putinpossession."


We drove back to the little town from which we had that morning started out,
andwheremyagentlived;mysleekcarfollowinghissmallonewithsomewhat
theeffectofalong-limbedpantherstridingbehindanagitatedmouse.
It appeared that the sale was simply consummated. I do not mean that all the
formalities were completed in a day. But by nightfall I could feel myself the
owneroftheplace.
Perhapsitwasthegiddinessofbeingaland-ownerforthefirsttime,orperhaps
itwastheabjectwretchednessoftheonlyhotelintownthatinspiredthewhim
whichseizedmeduringmysolitarydinner.Ihadspentonenighthere,anddid
notwelcometheprospectofasecond.AreturntoNewYorkwasnotpracticable,
becauseIhadarrangedtomeetseveralcontractorsandanarchitectatthefarm,
nextmorning,todiscussthealterationsIwantedmade.Whynotdriveouttomy
newhousethiseveningandsleeptonightintherosewood-furnishedbedroom?
TheideagainedfavorasIcontemplatedit.Icouldgooverthehousetonightand
sketchmoreclearlywhatIwanteddone,whileIwouldbeonthegroundwhen
mymenarrivednextmorning.Therewasanallureofcampingoutaboutit,too.
IntheendIwent,ofcourse.
It was dark when I stabled my roadster in the barn that was part of my new
possessions; where the car seemed to glitter disdain of the hay-littered, ragged
shelter.Equippedwithaflashlight,suitcaseandbundle,Ifollowedafaintpath
thatwounditswaytothehousethroughwetblackberryvineswhosethornshad
outlived the winter. My steps broke the blank silence that brooded over the
place.Atthisseasontherewasnoinsectlife;noranyotherstirringthingwithin
hearingorsight.ButjustasIsteppedupontheveranda,Iheardavaguesound
fromthelakethatlayafewhundredfeettothenorth.Therewasnowind,yetthe
waterhadseemedtomovewithasoundlikethesmackingofsoft,glutinouslips.
Orasifsomesoftbodydrewitselffromabedofclingingmud.Iwonderedidly
ifthetidecouldrunthisfarbackfromLongIslandSound.
Thehousereiteratedtheimpressionofwelcomingme.Ishutandlockedtheold
door behind me, and went up to the room I had chosen as my own. There I
unshuttered and opened the windows, lighted one of the candles I had brought
andsetitonalittlebookcasefilledwithdingyvolumes,andthrewmyblankets
onthebed.Ihadmovedin!
My pleasant sense of proprietorship continued to grow. Before I thought of


sleep, I had been through the house several times from cellar to attic and
accumulated a list of things to be done. Back in my room, an hour passed in
revisingthelist,bycandle-light.
Nearteno'clock,Irolledmyselfinadressing-gownandmyblankets,spreadan
automobilerobeoverthefour-postedbed,andfellasleep.


CHAPTERII
"Bewareofherfairhair,forsheexcels
Allwomeninthemagicofherlocks."
—SHELLEY(Trans.).
Ittrailedsuavelythroughmyfingers,slippingacrossmypalmlikeabeltofsilk.
Itglidedwiththenoiselesshasteofathinginflight.Quitenaturally,eveninthe
dazedmomentofawakeningIclosedmyhanduponit.Itwassoftinmygrasp,
yetresilient;solid,yetsupple.IfImayspeakirrationally,itfeltasifitmustbe
fragrant.Itwasastrangevisitortomyexperience,yetIrecognizeditsidentity
unerringly as a blind man gaining sight might identify a flower or a bird. In
brief,itwas—itonlycouldbeanopulentbraidofhair.
WhenIgraspedit,itceasedtomove.
Inthedensedarknessofmybedroom,Ilaystillandconsidered.Iwasalone,or
rather,shouldhavebeenaloneintheoldhouseIhadboughtthedaybefore.The
agent assured me that it had been unoccupied for years. Who, then, was my
guest?Apasser-byseekingrefugeinasupposedlydesertedhousewouldhardly
have moved about with such silent caution. A tramp of this genus would be a
rarityindeed.Ihadnothingwithmeofvaluetoattractathief.Theusuallimited
masculinejewelry—awatch,apairofcuff-links,amodestpin—surelywerenot
sufficiently tempting to snare so dainty a bird of prey as one wearing such
plumageasIheld.Ihavenotasmallfist,yetthatbraidwasageneroushandful.
How did it come to trail across my bed, in any case? And why was its owner
locked in silence and immobility? Surely startled innocence would have cried
out,questionedmygrasporstruggledagainstit!Mycaptivedidneither.
I began to paint a picture against the darkness; the picture of a crouching
woman,fear-paralyzed;notdaringtostir,tosoborpantorshiverlestshebetray
herself.Or,perhaps,awomanwhowasnothushedbypanic,butbydeliberation.
Awomanwhoslowlylevelledaweapon,assuringheraimintheblankdarkness
bysuchguidesasmybreathingandthetautdirectionofherimprisonedtresses.
Anuglywomancouldnothavesuchhairasthis.Or,couldshe?Ihadadoubtful
recollection of various long-haired demonstrators glimpsed in drugshop
windows, who were not beautiful. Yes, but they would never have found


themselves in such a situation as this one! Only resolve or recklessness could
bringawomantosuchapass;andwithspiritandthishairnowomancouldbe
ugly.
Howquietshewas!Isuddenlyreflectedthatshemustbethinkingthesamething
of me, since neither of us had moved during a considerable space of time.
Possiblyshefanciedmeonlyhalf-aroused,andhopedthatIwouldrelapseinto
sleep without realizing upon what my drowsy grasp had closed. No doubt it
wouldhavebeenthecourseofchivalryformetopretendtodoso,butitwasnot
thecourseofcuriosity.
The deadlock could not last indefinitely. Apparently, though, it must be I who
shouldbreakit.Asquietlyaspossible,Ibroughtmylefthandforwardtogrope
alongthatsilkenlinewhichcertainlymustguidemetotheintruderherself.My
hand slipped along the smooth surface to the full reach of my arm; and
encounterednothing.Check,forthefirstattempt!ThecandleandmatchesIhad
boughtinthevillagewerealsobeyondmyreach,unlessIreleasedmycaptive
and rolled across the bed toward the little bookcase where I had placed them
beside the flashlight. If I should speak, what would she do? And—a new
thought!—wasshealoneinthehouse?
There came a gentle draw at the braid, instantly ceasing as I automatically
tightened my hold. The pretense that I slept was ended. I spoke, as soothingly
andkindlyasIcouldmanage.
"If you will let me strike a light, we can explain to each other. Or, if you will
agreenottoescape——?"
Inspiteofmyefforts,myvoiceboomedstartlinglythroughthedark,stillroom.
Noreplyfollowed,butthebraidquiveredandsuddenlyrelaxedfromitstension.
She must have come closer to me. Delighted by so much success attained and
intrigued by the novelty of the adventure, I moved slightly, stretching my free
arminthedirectionoftheflashlight.
"Iamnotadifficultperson,"Iessayedencouragement."Nortoodull,Ihope,to
understandamistakeoranecessity.NoramIaffiliatedwiththepolice!Permit
me——"
I halted abruptly. A cool edge of metal had been laid across the wrist of my
groping hand. As the hand came to rest, palm uppermost, I could feel, or
imaginedIcouldfeelmypulsebeatingsteadilyagainstthemenacingpressureof


theblade.Thewarningwaseloquentandsufficient;Imovednofurthertoward
myflashlight.Ofcourse,ifIhadliftedmyrighthandfromitsguardofthebraid,
I could easily have pinioned the arm which poised the knife before I suffered
muchharm.ButImighthavelostmycaptiveintheattempt;aneventforwhichI
wasnotready,yet.
"Check,"Iadmitted."Although,itisrathernearastalemateforusboth,isn'tit?"
Theknifepressedcloser,suggestively.
"No," I dissented with the mute argument. "I think not. I do not believe you
coulddoit;notincoldblood,anyway!"
"Youdonotknow,"insistedthecloserpressingblade,asifwithatongue.
"No,Idonotknow,"Itranslatedaloud."ButIamconfidentenoughtochanceit.
Whatreasonhaveyoufordesperateaction?Iwouldnotharmyou.HaveInota
right to curiosity? This is my house, you know. Or perhaps you did not know
that?"
A sigh stirred the silence, blending with the ceaseless whisper of the rain that
hadrecommencedthroughthenight.Thebraiddidnotmoveinmyrighthand,
nordidthebladetouchingmyleft.
"Speak!" I begged, with an abrupt urgency that surprised myself. "You are the
invader. Why? What would you have from me? If I am to let you go, at least
speaktome,first!Thisis—uncanny."
"There is magic in the third time of asking," came a breathed, just audible
whisper."Yet,bewarned;callnottoyouthatwhichyoumayneitherholdnor
forbid."
"ButIdocall—ifthatwillmakeyouspeaktome,"Ireturned,mypulsestingling
triumph."Although,astonotholdingyou——"
"Youfancyyouholdme?Itisnotyouwhoaremasterofthismoment,butIwho
amitsmistress."
Hervoicehadgainedinstrength;asoftvoice,yetnotweak,usedwithadelicate
deliberationthatgaveherspeechtheeffectofbeingacapriceofherownrather
thanaresultofmycompulsion.Yet,Ithought,shemustbecrouchedorkneeling
besideme,onthefloor,heldliketheLadyoftheBeautifulTresses.


"Still,Idoubtifyouhavethedispositiontouseyouradvantage,"Ibegan.
"Youmean,thecruelty,"shecorrectedme.
"I am from New York," I smiled. "Let me say, the nerve. If you pressed that
knife,Imightbleedtodeath,youknow."
"Would you hear a story of a woman of my house, and her anger, before you
doubttoofar?"
"Tell me," I consented; and smiled in the darkness at the transparent plan to
distractmyattentionfromthatimprisonedbraid.
ShewassilentforsolongthatIfanciedtheplanabandoned,perhapsforlackof
ataletotell.Thenhervoiceleapedsuddenlyoutoftheblacknessthatclosedus
in,speakingalwaysinmutedtones,butwithastrange,impassionedurgencyand
forcethatstartledlikeacry.Thewordshurriedupononeanotherlikebreaking
surf.
"See!See!Thefireleapsinthechimney;itbreathessparkslikeadreadfulbeast
—itishungry;itsredtongueslickforthatwhichtheymaynotyethave.Already
its breath is hot upon the wax image on the hearth. But the image is round of
limbandsound.Yes,thoughitisbuttoy-large,itisperfectandfirm!Seehowit
stands in the red shine: the image of a man, cunningly made to show his
stalwartnessandstrengthandbraveryofvelvetandlace!Theimageofagreat
man,surely;onehighinplaceandpower.Oneabovefearandbeyondthereach
ofhate!
"Thewomansitsinherlowchair,behindtheimage.Thefire-shineisbrightin
hereyesandinherhair.Oneithersideherhairflowsdowntothefloor;hereyes
lookontheimageandaredreadfullyglad.Ha,wasnotBeautythelure,andshall
itnotbethevengeance?
"Theninelampshavebeenlighted!Thefeathershavebeenlaidinacircle!The
spellhasbeenspoken;thespellofHai,sonofSet,firstmantoslaymanbythe
DarkArt!
"The man is at the door of the woman's house. Yes, he who came in pride to
woo,andprovedtraitortothelovewon—heisatherdoorinweaknessandpain.
"Asthewaxwastes,themanwastes!Asthemannikinisgone,themandies!


"Onherdoorstep,hebegsforlife.Heiscowardandbroken.Hesuffersandis
consumed. He calls to her the love-names they both know. And the woman
laughs,andthedoorisbarred.
"The door is barred, but what shall bar out the Enemy who creeps to the nine
lamps?
"See,thefireshinesthroughthewax!Theimageisgrownthinandwan.Three
days,threenights,ithasshrunkbeforetheflames.Threedays,threenights,the
woman has watched. As the fire is not weary, she is not weary. As the fire is
beautiful,sheisbeautiful.
"Themanisbornetoherdooragain.Heliftsuphishandsandcriestoher.But
now he begs for death. Now he knows anguish stronger than fear. And the
womanlaughs,andthedoorisbarred.
"Thefireshinesonalumpofwax.Themanisdead.Fromherchairthewoman
hasarisenandstands,triumphant.
"But what crouches behind her, unseen? The lamps are cast down! The
pentagramiscrossed!TheHorrortakesitsown."
Theimpassionedspeechbrokeoffwiththeeffectofasnappedbarofthinmetal.
In the silence, the steady whisper of rain came to my ears again, continuing
patiently.IbecameawareofarichyetdelicatefragranceintheairIbreathed.It
was not any perfume I could identify, either as a composition or as a flower
scent.IfImayhopetobeunderstooditsparkleduponthesenses.Itproduceda
thirstforitself,sothatthenostrilsexpandedforitwithaneagernessforthenew
pleasure.Ifoundmyselfbreathingdeeply,almostgreedily,beforeansweringmy
prisoner'sstory.
"'SisterHelen,'"Iquoted,aslightlyasIcould.
"AnddoyouthinkRossettihadnotruthtobasehispoemupon?"herquietvoice
flowed out of the darkness, seeming scarcely the same speech as the swift,
irregularutteranceofamomentbefore."Doyouthinkthatallthetraditionsand
learningoftheyoungerworldmeant—nothing?"
"Areyouaskingmetobelieveinwitchcraftandsorcery?"
"Iasknothing."


"NoteventobelievethatyouwillpresstheknifeifIrefusetofreeyou?"
"Noteventhat;now!"
Compunction smote me. Her voice sounded more faint, as if from fatigue or
discouragement.Itseemedtomethatthebladeagainstmywristhadrelaxedits
menace of pressure and just rested in position. I seemed to read my lady's
wearinessintheslackenedvigilance.Perhapsshewasreallyfrightened,nowthat
herbraveattempttolullmeintoincautionhadfailed.
"Listen,please,"Ispokeearnestly."Iamgoingtosetyoufree.Iapologizefor
keeping you captive so long! But you will admit the provocation to my
curiosity?Youwillforgiveme?"
Asighdriftedacrossthedarkness.
"Iasknoquestions,"Iurged."Butwillyounottrustmetomakealightandgive
whathelpIcan?Youarewelcometousethehouseasyouplease.Or,ifyouare
lostorstormbound,mycarisintheoldbarnandIwilldriveyouanywherethat
yousay.Letusnotspoilouradventurebysuspicion.Ingoodfaith——"
I opened my hand, releasing the lovely rope by which I had detained my
prisoner. Then, with a quickening pulse, I waited. Would she stay? Would she
spring up and escape? Would she thank me, or would she reply with some
eccentricityunpredictableasherwhimtotellmethattale?
She did none of these things. The braid of hair, freed entirely, continued to lie
supinelyacrossmyopenpalm.Thecoolnessofthebladestilllightlytouchedmy
wrist.Shemightbedebatinghercourseofaction,Ireflected.Well,Iwasinno
hastetoconcludetheepisode!
Whenthesilencehadlastedmanymoments,however,Ibegantogrowrestive.
Anxietytingedmyspeculations.Supposeshehadfainted?Ordidshedoubtmy
intentions,andwasherquietnessthatofoneonguard?Istirredtentatively.
Twothingshappenedsimultaneouslywithmymovement.Thebraidglidedaway
fromme,whiletheknifeslippedfromitspositionandtinkleduponthefloor.I
started up, perception of the truth seizing my slow wits, and reached for my
flashlight.
Therewasnooneintheroomexceptmyself.Downmyblanketwasslippinga
severed braid of hair, perhaps a foot in length, jaggedly cut across at the end


farthestfrommyhand.Leaningover,Isawonthefloorbesidethebedapaperknifeofmy own; a sharp, serviceable tool that formed part of my writing kit.
Beforegoingtobed,Ihadtakenitfrommysuitcasetotrimacandle-wick,and
hadleftituponthebookstand.
Now I understood why her voice had sounded more distant than seemed
reasonable while I held her beside me. No doubt she had hacked off the
detainingbraidalmostassoonasIgraspedit.Theknifeshehadpressedagainst
my wrist to keep me where I lay while she made ready for flight; or amused
herselfwithme.Flight?Sayratherthatshehadleisurelywithdrawn!Perhapsshe
hadnot evenheardmymagnanimousspeechofferingherthefreedomthatshe
alreadypossessed.Ifshehadstayedtohearme,probablyshehadlaughed.
Perhapsshewasstillinthehouse.
I rose and lighted a candle, under the impulsion of that idea, reserving my
flashlight for the search. But there was no one in any of the dusty, sparsely
furnished rooms and halls through which I hunted. The ancient locks on doors
andwindowswerefastenedasIhadleftthem,althoughmyladycertainlyhad
entered and left at her pleasure. Puzzled and amused, I finally returned to my
bedchamber.
Therewassomedifferenceinthatroom.IwasconsciousofthefactassoonasI
enteredandclosedthedoorbehindme.ThecandlestillburnedwhereIhadleft
it, flickering slightly in some current of air. There was no change that the eye
could find, no sound except the rain, yet I felt an extreme reluctance to go on
evenastepfromwhereIstood.WhatIwantedtodowastotearopenthedoor
behind me, to rush out into the hall and slam the door shut between this room
andmyself.
Why?Ilookedaroundme,sendingthebeamoftheflashlightplayingoverthe
quietplace.Nothing,ofcourse!Iwalkedovertothebookcase,tookupthebraid
Ihadleftthere,andsatdowninanoldarmchairtostudymytrophy.Onprinciple
andbyhabitIhadnointentionofbeingmasteredbynerves.Itwashumiliating
to discover that I could be made nervous by the mere fact of being in an
unoccupiedfarmhouseaftermidnight.
The braid was magnificent. It was as broad as my palm, yet compressed so
tightly that it was thick and solid to the touch. If released over someone's
shoulders, it would have been a sumptuous cloak, indeed! In what madness of
panichadthegirlsacrificedthisbeauty?Howshemusthateme,nowthepanic


was past! The color, too, was unique, in my experience; a gold as vivid as
auburn.Orwasittingedwithauburn?AsIleanedforwardtocatchthecandlelight,adriftofthatfragrancewornbymyvisitorfloatedfromherbraid.
At once I knew what had changed in the room. The air that had been so pure
whenthehousewasopened,nowwasheavywithanodorofdampandmould
thathadseepedintotheatmosphereasmoisturewillseepthroughcellarwalls.
Onewouldhavesaidthatthedoorofsomehideousvaulthadbeenopenedinto
mybedchamber.Thisstenchstruggled,asitwere,withthevolatileperfumethat
clung about the braid; so that my senses were thrust back and forth between
disgustanddelightinthestrangestwaveringofsensation.
Imadethestrongestefforttoputawaytheeffectthiswaveringhaduponme.I
forcedmyselftositstillandthinkofnormalthings;ofthemenwhomIwasto
seenextmorning,oftheplansImeanttodiscusswiththem.
Useless!Thestenchwasmakingmeill.Awaveofgiddinesssweptoverme,and
passed.Myheartwasbeatingslowlyandheavily.Somethinginmyheadpulsed
inunison.Ifeltafrightfuldepression,thatsuddenlyburstintoanattackoffear
grippingmelikehysteria.Iwanted toshriekaloudlikeawoman,tocovermy
eyes and run blindly. But at the same time my muscles failed me. Will and
strengthwerearrestedlikefrozenwater.
AsIsatthere,facingthedooroftheroom,IbecameawareofSomethingatthe
windowbehindmyback.Somethingthatpressedagainsttheopenwindowand
staredatmewithahideouscovetousnessbesidewhichthegreedofabeastfor
itspreyisanatural,innocentappetite.IfeltthatThing'shungrymalignancelike
asoft,dreadfulmouthsuckingtowardme,yetheldawayfrommebysomeforce
vaguelybasedonmyownresistance.AndIunderstoodhowamanmaydieof
horror.
Yet,presently,Iturnedaround.Weakandsick,withdraggingeffortIturnedin
mychairandfacedtheblack,uncurtainedwindowwhereIfeltIttobe.
Nothing was there, to sight or hearing. I sat still, and combated that which I
knew was there. In the profound stillness, I heard the wind stir the naked
branchesofthetrees,theflowingwater through the fragments of the one-time
dam,thesputteringofmycandlewhichneededtrimming.Sweatrandownmy
faceandbody,drenchingmewithcold.Itcrouchedagainsttheemptywindow,
staringatme.


Afteratime,thepresenceseemednotsoclose.Atlast,IseemedtoknowItwas
gone.Inthegushofthatenormousreliefmyremainingstrengthwassweptaway
likeaswimmerinatorrentandIcollapsedhalf-faintinginmychair.
WhenIwasable,Iroseandwalkedthroughthehouseagain.Againtherooms
showed nothing to my flashlight except dull furniture, walls peeling here and
therefromlongneglect,picturesofnomeritanddrearysubject.Ihadexpected
nothing,andIfoundnothing.
It was on my way upstairs to my bedroom that a sentence from the invisible
lady'sstorycamebacktomymind.
"Whatcrouchesbehindher,unseen?TheHorrortakesItsown——"
The bedroom door opened quietly under my hand. The rain had ceased and a
fresheningbreezecamefromthewest,fillingtheroomwithsweetcountryair.
Thecandlehadburneddown.WhileIstoodthere,theflameflickeredout.
Afterabriefindecision,Imademywaytothebed,rolledmyselfintheblankets,
and laid down between the four pineapple-topped posts. This time I kept the
flashlight at my hand. But almost at once I slept, and slept heavily far into a
bright,windyMarchmorning.


CHAPTERIII
"Wideistheseatofthemangentleofspeech."
—INSTRUCTIONOFKE'GEMNI.
OntheseconddayaftermyreturntoNewYork,myAuntCarolineKnoxcalled
meuponthetelephone.
There are reasons why I always feel myself at a disadvantage with Aunt
Caroline.ThefirstofthesebringsmetoatriflingmatterthatIshouldhaveset
downbefore,butwhichIhavemadeahabitofignoringsofaraspossibleinboth
thoughtandspeech.AswasLordByron,Iamslightlylame.Iadmitthatisthe
onlyqualityincommon;still,Iliketheromanticassociation.Now,mylimpis
veryslight,andIneverhavefounditinterferedmuchwiththingsIcaredtodo.
Infact,Iamotherwisesomewhatabovetheaverageinstrengthandvigor.But
frommyboyhoodAuntCarolinealwaysmadeapointofalludingtothephysical
factasoftenaspossible.Sheconsideredthatcourseahealthfuldiscipline.
"Mynephew,"shewasaccustomedtointroduceme."Lamesincehewasseven.
Roger, do not scowl! Yes; run over trying to save a pet dog. A mongrel of no
valuewhatever!"
WhichwouldhaveleftsomedoubtastowhethershereferredtopoorTattersor
tome,haditnotbeenforherexceedingprideinourfamilytree.
The second reason for my disadvantage before her, was her utter contempt for
myprofessionasacomposerofpopularmusic.
Todayhervoicecamethinlytomeacrossthelong-distancewire.
"Your Cousin Phillida has failed in her examinations again," she announced to
me,withaspeciesoftragicrepose."Inviewofherfather'sintellectandmy—er
—my family's, her mental status is inexplicable. Although, of course, there is
yourowncase!"
"Why,sheisthemosteducatedgirlIknow,"Iprotestedhastily.
"I presume you mean best educated, Roger. Pray do not quite lose your
commandoflanguage."


ImeantexactlywhatIhadsaid.Phillidahasstudiedsinceshewasthreeyears
old, exhaustively and exhaustedly. A vision of her plain, pale little face rose
before me when I spoke. It is a burden to be the only child of a professor,
particularlyforameekgirl.
"She has studied insufficiently," Aunt Caroline pursued. "She is nineteen, and
herpositionatVassarisdeplorable."
"Herhealth——"Imurmured.
"Would not have hampered her had she given proper attention to athletics!
However,IdidnotcalluptohearyoudefendPhillidainamatterofwhichyou
are necessarilyignorant. HerfatherandIare somewhatbetterjudges,I should
suppose,thanayoungmanwhoisnotastudentinanytruesenseoftheword
and ignores knowledge as a purpose in life. Not that I wish to wound or
depreciate you, Roger. There is, I may say, a steadiness of moral character
beneathyourfrivolityofmindandpursuit.Ifmypoorbrotherhadtrainedyou
morewisely;ifyouhadbeenmyson——"
"Thank you, Aunt," I acknowledged the benevolent intention, with an inward
quailing at the clank of fetters suggested. "Was there something I can do for
you?"
"WillyoumeetPhillidaattheGrandCentralandbringherhome?Icannothave
her cross New York alone and take a second train out here. Her father has a
lecturethisafternoonandIhaveaclubmeetingatthehouse."
"Withpleasure,Aunt!Whattimedoeshertraingetin?"
"Halfafterfour.Thankyou,Roger.And,shelooksonyouasanelderbrother.I
believeanattitudeofcooldisapprovalonyourpartmightimpressuponherhow
shehasdisappointedthefamily."
"Leaveittome,Aunt.MayItakehertotea,betweentrains,andgetouttoyour
placeonthesixo'clockexpress?"
"Ifyouthinkbest.Youmightadviseherseriouslyoverthetea."
"Adashoflemon,asitwere,"Ireflected."Certainly,Aunt,Icould."
"Verywell.Iamreallyobliged!"
"Thepleasureismine,Aunt."


ButthatitwasgoingtobePhillida's,Ihadalreadydecided.Shewouldneedthe
supportofteaandFrenchpastrybeforefacingherhome.Asfortreatingherwith
cooldisapproval,IwouldsoonerhavespentayearatVassarmyself.Itwasmy
intention to meet her with a box of chocolates instead of advice. Phil was not
allowedcandy,hercomplexionbeingundercultivation.Ontheoccasionswhen
we wereouttogetherithadbeenmy customtoprovidea boxofsweets,upon
whichshebrowsedluxuriously,bestowingtheremnantsuponsomestreetchild
beforereachingherhome.
FromthetelephoneIturnedbacktothatfrivolouspursuitofwhichmyaunthad
spoken with such tactfully veiled contempt. She was not softened by the
respectablefortuneIhadmadefromseveralsuccessfulmusicalcomediesanda
numberofeffortswhichmypublishersadvertiseas"high-classparlorpiecesfor
thehome."Infact,shefeltittobeagrievancethatmylightnessshouldbebetter
paidthantheProfessor'slearning.Inwhichshewasnodoubtright!
EversincemyreturnfrommynewlypurchasedfarminConnecticut,however,I
hadnotbeenworkingformoneyorpopularapproval,butformyownpleasure.
TherewasaWorkuponwhichIspentonlyspecialhoursofdeliciousleisureand
infinitelabor.Itheldallthatwasforbiddentopopularcompositions;depthand
sorrowanddissonancesdearerthanharmony.IcalleditaSymphonyPolynesian,
andIhadspentyearsinstudyofbarbaricmusic,instrumentsandkindredthings
thatthislove-childofminemightbemorerichlyclothedbyatoneorafancy.
Aunt Caroline had interrupted, this morning, at a very point of achievement
toward which I had been working through the usual alternations of enjoyment
and exasperation, elevation and dejection that attend most workmen. Pausing
only to set my alarm-clock, I hurried into recording what I had found, in the
tangibleformofpaperandink.
I always set the alarm-clock when I have an engagement, warned by dire
experiences.
Aunt Caroline had summoned me about eleven in the morning. When the
stridentvoiceoftheclockagainarousedme,Ihadjusttimetodressandreach
the Grand Central by half-past four. I recognized that I was hungry, that the
vicinitywassnowedoverwithsheetsofpaper,thatthepianokeyshadacquired
another inkstain, and my pipe had charred another black spot on the desk top.
Well, it had been a good day; and Phillida's tea would have to be my belated
luncheonorearlydinner.Evenso,itwasnecessarytomakehaste.


ItwasinthathasteofmakingreadythatIuncoveredthebraidofglitteringhair
which I had brought from Connecticut. I use no exaggeration when I say it
glittered. It did; each hair was lustrous with a peculiar, shining vitality, and
crinkledslightlyalongitsfulllength.Witharenewedself-reproachatsightofits
humbledexileandcaptivity,Itookupthetrophyofmyoneadventure.WhileI
am without much experience, such a quantity seemed unusual. Also, I had not
knownsuchamassofhaircouldbesosoftandsuppleinthehand.Mymother
andlittlesisterdiedbeforeIcanremember;andwhileIhavemanygoodfriends,
I have none intimate enough to educate me in such matters. Perhaps a
consciousnessofthattriflingphysicaldisadvantageofminehasmademeprefer
agooddealofsolitudeinmyhoursathome.
The faint, tenacious yet volatile perfume drifted to my nostrils, as I held the
braid. Who could the woman be who brought that costly fragrance into a
desertedfarmhouse?Forsoexquisiteanduniqueafragrancecouldonlybethe
work ofamaster perfumer. There was youth in that vigorous hair, coquetry in
the individual perfume, panic in her useless sacrifice of the braid I held; yet
strangestself-possessioninthetellingofthatfancifultaleofsorcerytome.
Onthattale,tolddramaticallyinthedark,Ihadnextmorningblamedtheweird
wakingnightmarethatIhadsufferedafterhervisit.Thehorrorofthenightcould
not endure the strong sun and wind of the March morning that followed. Like
Scrooge, I analyzed my ghost as a bit of undigested beef or a blot of mustard.
Certainly the thing had been actual enough while it lasted, but my reason had
thrustitaway.Thatwasover,Ireflected,asIlaidthebraidbackinthedrawer.
Butsurelytheladywasnotvanishedlikethenightmare?SurelyIshouldfindher
insomeneighbor'sdaughter,whenmyhousewasfinishedandIwenttherefor
thesummer?Shecouldnothidefromme,withthatbrightwebaboutherhead
whosetwinwebIheld.
IthadgrownsolatethatIhadtotakeataxicabtotheTerminal,justhaltingata
shoplongenoughtobuyaboxofthechocolatesmycousinpreferred.Butwhen
Ireachedthegreatstationandfoundmywaythroughtheswirloftravelerstothe
trackwherePhil'strainshouldcomein,Iwastoldtheexpresshadbeendelayed.
"Probably half an hour late," the gateman informed me. "Maybe more! Of
course,though,shemaypullinanytime."
WhichmeantnoteaforPhillida;instead,arushacrosstowntothePennsylvania
station to catch the train for her home. As I could not leave my post lest she


arriveinmyabsence,italsomeantnothingtoeatformeuntilwereachedAunt
Caroline'shospitality;whichwascoolandrestrainedratherthanfestive.
I foresaw the heavy atmosphere that would brood over all like a cold fog, this
eveningofPhil'sdisgracefulreturnfromthescholasticarena.Ascertainingfrom
the gateman that the erring train was certain not to pull in during the next ten
minutes,Isoughtatelephonebooth.
"Aunt Caroline, Phil's train is going to be very late, possibly an hour late," I
misinformedmykinswoman,whenhervoiceansweredme."Ihavehadnothing
toeatsincebreakfast,andshewillbehungrylongbeforewereachyourhouse.
MayInottakehertodinnerhereintown?"
"Pleasedonotcallyourcousin'Phil',"sherebukedme,andpausedtodeliberate.
"Youhadnoluncheon,yousay?"
"None."
"Whynot?Wereyouill?"
"No;justbusy.Iforgotlunch.Iambeginningtofeelit,now.Still,ifyouwishus
tocomestraighthome,donotconsiderme!"
IknewofoldhowsubmissionmollifiedAuntCaroline.Sherelented,now.
"Well——!Youareverygood,Roger,tosaveyouruncleatripintothecityto
meether.Imustnotimposeuponyou.But,aquiethotel!"
"Certainly,Aunt."
"Phillidadoesnotdeservepamperingenjoyment.Iamconsentingforyoursake."
"Thank you, Aunt. I wonder, then, if you would mind if we stopped to see a
showthatIespeciallywanttolookover,forbusinessreasons?Wecouldcome
outonthetheatreexpress;aswehavedonebefore,youremember?"
"Yes,but——"
"Thankyou.I'lltakegoodcareofher.Good-bye."
The receiver was still talking when I hung up. There is no other form of
conversationsoincomparablyconvenient.
The train arrived within the half-hour. With the inrush of travelers, I sighted


Phillida's sober young figure moving along the cement platform. She walked
withdejection.Hergraysuitrepresentedacompromisebetweenfashionandher
mother'sopinionofdecorum,thusattainingalengthandfulnessnotenoughfor
grace yet too much for jauntiness. Her solemn gray hat was set too squarely
upon the pale-brown hair, brushed back from her forehead. Her nice, younggirl'seyeslookedoutthroughapairofshell-rimmedspectacles.Shewastoothin
andtoopaletocontentme.
When she saw me coming toward her, her face brightened and colored quite
warmly.Shewavedherbagwithactualabandonandherlaggingstepquickened
toarun.
"CousinRoger!"sheexclaimedbreathlessly."Oh,howgoodofyoutocome!"
Shegrippedmyhandsinacandidfervorofreliefandpleasure.
"Iamsogladitisyou,"sheinsisted."Iwassorrythetraincouldnotbelater;I
wished, almost, it would never get in—and all the time it was you who were
waitingforme!"
"It was, and now you are about to share an orgy," I told her. "I have your
mother'spermissiontotakeyoutodinner,MissKnox."
"Here?Intown?Justus?"
"Yes.Andafterwardwewilltakeinanyshowyoufancy.Howdoesthatstrike
you?"
Shegazedupatme,absorbingtheideaandmyseriousness.Tomydismay,she
grewpaleagain.
"I—Ireallybelieveitwillkeepmefromjustdying."
Ipretendedtothinkthatajoke.ButIrecognizedthatmylittlecousinwasonthe
slopingwaytowardanervousbreakdown.
"No baggage?" I observed. "Good! I hope you did not eat too much luncheon.
Thiswillbeanearlydinner."
Shewaitedtotakeoffthespectaclesandputtheminherlittlebag.
"I do not need them except to study, but I didn't dare meet Mother without
them," she explained. "No; I could not eat lunch, or breakfast either, Cousin


Roger.Normuchdinnerlastnight!Oh,ifyouknewhowIdread—thegrind!I
shouldratherrunaway."
"Sowewill;forthisevening."
"Yes.Where—wherewereyougoingtotakeme?"
Wehadcrossedthegreatwhitehalltostreetlevel,andataxicabwasrollingup
tohaltbeforeus.Surprisedbytheanxietyintheeyessheliftedtomine,Inamed
the staid, quietly fastidious hotel where I usually took her when we were
permittedanexcursiontogether.
"Unlessyouhaveachoice?"Ifinished.
"I have." She breathed resolution. "I want to go to a restaurant with a cabaret,
insteadofgoingtothetheatre.MayI?Please,mayI?WillyoutakemewhereI
say,thisonetime?"
Herearnestnessamazedme.Iknewwhathermotherwouldsay.Ialsoknew,or
thought I knew that Phillida needed the mental relaxation which comes from
having one's own way. In her mood, no one else's way, however, wise or
agreeable,willdoitall.
"All right," I yielded. "If you will promise me, faith of a gentlewoman, to tell
AuntCarolinethatItookyouthereandyoudidnotknowwhereyouweregoing.
Myshouldersarebroaderthanyoursandhavebornethebuffetingofthirty-two
yearsinsteadofnineteen.Hadyouchosentheplace,orshallI?"
Tomysecondsurprise,sheansweredwiththenameofanuptownplacewhereI
neverhadbeen,andwhereIwouldhavedecidedlypreferrednottotakeher.
"Theyhaveaskatingballet,"sheurged,asIhesitated."Iknowitiswonderful!
Please,please——?"
I gave the direction to the chauffeur and followed my cousin into the cab. It
seemed a proper moment to present the chocolates from my overcoat pocket.
Whensheprovedtoolanguidtounwrapthebox,Iwasseriouslyuneasy.
"You cannot possibly know how dreadful it is to be the only child of two
intellectual people who expect one to be a credit," she excused her lack of
appetite,nervouslytwitchingthegiltcordaboutthepackage."Andtobestupid
and a disappointment! Yes, as long as I can remember, I have been a


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